BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates reassigned top prospect Gerrit Cole to minor-league camp, a move that was expected whether the pitcher was ready to make his major league debut or not.
The right-hander pitched well in four outings this spring and could have earned consideration for a spot in the Pirates' rotation.
But had Cole started the season in the major leagues, he would earn a full season of service time and qualify for free agency in 2018, not 2019.
If the Pirates wait until June, they could also push back his arbitration years, a financially advantageous move for the ballclub.
"Everybody's going to speculate why he's being sent out, and they're wrong," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He's being sent out because, in our minds, he's not ready to compete and be successful at the major league level."
Huntington said Cole needs to work on consistency of his delivery, command of his pitches and control of his emotions.
He also needs to improve his secondary pitches, which compliment a dominant fastball.
"The track record of professional pitchers with less than 200 innings that have gotten in the big leagues is about a 50/50 hit rate," Huntington said. "And some of those guys are high picks like Gerrit."
Cole believes he is ready to pitch in the major leagues and was upset by the reassignment.
"I really worked hard here, and I put together a lot of good outings, especially if I didn't have my stuff," he said. "I tried to give them a lot of opportunities to not make this decision. But in the end, it still happened."
In three Grapefruit League outings, Cole went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA. He struck out seven batters and allowed eight hits in 10 innings. He also pitched dominantly in an exhibition game against Team Spain, striking out six batters and allowing two hits in six innings.
Asked if he believed his service time played an issue in the team's decision, Cole hesitated, then deferred.
"Maybe somebody else has a better idea about that," he said.
In addition to Cole's move, the Pirates optioned right-handed pitcher Phil Irwin to Class AAA Indianapolis and reassigned four other players to minor league camp: right-handed pitchers Brooks Brown and Kyle Waldrop, left-handed pitcher Kris Johnson and catcher Ali Solis.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 4122-263-1722 and on Twitter: @msanserino.